|The Buddhism course gave me an appreciation for the universal truth of the Dharma. I personally see the Dharma as a living entity that exists beyond the boundaries of remembered teaching and as a common reality between potentially opposing philosophies and beliefs. It is the way of practice and not theory and speculation. It is the way things are. I can find it in most of the worlds religions and spiritual teachings as well as in art, poetry, music and works of compassion. Buddha's journey appears free from attachment to dogmatic views and shows the importance of a personal approach and the avoidance of a non-authoritarian perspective. |
Some say that because the Buddha found it necessary to leave home and seek enlightenment, his message is that it is only possible to be enlightened if your are a monk. I disagree! I see everyone's journey to enlightenment as a personal and autonomous endeavor. Buddhism is far from external forms. You don't have to study long and involved scriptures, eat only special kind of food, wear any special clothes, attend a church, chant or even meditate.
Buddha's realistic statements as to the realities of life are explained well in the Four Noble Truths. Many people appear to advocate a personal existential approach with the attraction being permanent bliss free from suffering. But the Buddha emphasized that both happy and sad times come to an end and that we suffer by worrying about what we might lose or gain. This advocates an attitude in me that is open to experience including the awareness of personal attachments that perpetuate suffering. We all crave sensations of various kinds and if they are pleasurable, we crave their repetition.
What appealed most to me about the course is Zen and it's emphasis on clearing the mind. As the Buddha put it in the Dhammapada, "everything is based on the mind, is led by the mind, is fashioned by the mind". In other words, if you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you as the wheels of ox cart follow the footsteps of the ox. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you as a shadow clings to form. I find that the Zen idea of a polluted mind is quite different from the traditional Christian perspective, which dictates that "impure" thoughts be rooted out and eliminated.
What pollutes the mind in Buddhist view is our desire to get life to conform to our peculiar notion of how things should be as opposed to how they really are. The point of Zen practice is to make you aware of the thoughts that run your life and diminish their power over you. One of the fundamental tools for doing that is a form of sitting called "Zazen". In Zazen practice, concentration comes not from trying hard to focus on something, but from keeping your mind open and directing it at nothing. Sitting zazen, I learned to trust the moment - to be as mindfully as possible so I could react spontaneously to whatever was taking place.
Another aspect of Zen that intruged me was it's emphasis on compassion. The goal of Zen is not just to clear the mind, but to open the heart as well. The two are interrelated and I would say that awareness is the seed of compassion. As we begin to notice ourselves and others, just as we are, without judgment, compassion flows naturally. When I was a boy, I was caught up in the mental aspects of worship, sort of building a wall in my mind with prayer and quotations from the Bible, that I lost track of the essence of Christianity. By practicing Zen, I was able to clear my mind of all that interference and look upon my heart again.
It is also clear to me that the Buddha recognized the Dharma would be subject to change as all things are. The teachings of Siddhartha changed as they traveled. As aspects of the Dharma were emphasized and developed within separate sangas, new schools of were encouraged. As a result of this development, sects were created holding opposing beliefs, some which separated the ordained monks and nuns from the lay people. Because influences and teachings come from a variety of traditions and countries, it appears to me that we do not have a coherent Western sanga. In my opinion, what we have instead is a number of sanga's held together with the label "Buddhism". From this, I'm inspired to think of Western Buddhism as an objective Buddhism developed by observing the many fractions as a whole.
By Rev. Stephen Satonick
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