Buddha and Awakening
I was listening to a dharma talk given by a zen teacher. In the talk she gave an account of Shakyamuni Buddha's life, his search and his struggles.
"He searched for 6 years. He studied with three profoundly important teachers of the time. He studied various meditation techniques, he struggled with the ascetic tradition, he wondered from place to place, he had a few friends who were also on the path with him, and he became quite discouraged because he couldn't seem to break through his question which was why do we suffer, and what is the mystery of suffering, and how do we end suffering."
- Enkyo O'Hara Roshi
Listening to this bit got me wondering of this like many times before. Shakyamuni, before his awakening, had the problem that despite of his utmost efforts he was doing wrong practices, practices that wouldn't and didn't get him awake from his suffering. As the story goes he studied with three masters of the time and came to master various states of meditation but these states would come and go without any permanent change on his mind. Also, Shakyamuni was neglecting his body by meditating too much and by not eatingand sleeping. He had studied with all the greatest yogis of his time but he just couldn't get to a place where the knot of his confusion would untangle. This is the problem I had and many others have.
So Shakyamuni sat down to concentrate and swore to sit as long as it would take him to break through. And it happened to him through sitting for a week. On the eighth morning as he lifted his gaze, as he was finishing his concentration exercise, he saw the star Venus in the sky. That simple and yet direct moment of seeing the bright star penetrated his sense of self. Through this awakening experience he had a shift from the self-based mind to selfless mind. And it set him free.
There are similar stories of awakening. One zen roshi I know woke up by seeing a tree leaf being touched by a gust of wind, after he had finished his meditation. Another zen roshi woke up by hearing the sound of his piss splashing in the urinal after his zazen. Awakenings through these kind of incidents happen. It happens but it is random.
I wonder if Shakyamuni, before his awakening, ever knew why he had the yearning to seek. I wonder if he knew exactly why he was pursuing the ascetic path and then the yogic path until he woke up. I don't assume he did because had he understood that his suffering was caused by his sense of self, or me-ness, he would have been able to tackle it head on. But he didn't, his path testifies that. Apparently his ascetic masters didn't really know either why they were doing all the things they did because otherwise Shakyamuni wouldn't have needed to leave them to find the answer on his own.
Many meditators of the modern day share the same problem Shakyamuni did: I need to wake up but it just isn't happening even though I am doing everything according to the instructions of the tradition. Shakyamuni sat for 6 years, I sat 8½. I know people who sat up to 10, 20, 35 years (long days!) but were not able to break through. Many modern meditators have the same problem Shakyamuni did *2500* years ago. It is a valid question why it is so random.
There is no way to avoid suffering, or existential confusion, living as a human being. But there are definite ways for extinquishing the fire of self-delusion. We need to have an understanding what exactly is the matter. When we understand that we have to have a technique, an exercise, to tackle the issue. And thirdly it is very helpful to receive instructions from someone who is already there.
I hope that in another 2500 years techniques for awakening, like the Two-Part Formula, are a household name so that the future generations don't have to suffer the way we did.
- Kim Katami, 30.4.2018
The Two-Part Formula: http://www.en.openheart.fi/113