In his iconic hit song from the early 1970s, “Space Odddity,” David Bowie paints a picture of alarm on earth: “Ground control to Major Tom, your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong/ Can you hear me, Major Tom, can you hear me, Major Tom,” contrasted with a certain resigned equanimity on the part of Major Tom himself: “Planet earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do….”
It is perhaps not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Major Tom achieved full awakening in his “tin can” as he floated helplessly in space. Indeed, he went the Buddha one better. Recalling that the historical Buddha, being a human long before the space age, died and his body decomposed as bodies will do on earth, while his consciousness, maybe, dissipated into space, such that he became light, our putatively enlightened Major Tom not only dissipated into light in his consciousness, but his body is now floating around in space, too, or it was for however long his tin can lasted, after which, we do not know what would happen to a human corpse left floating in space.
We can regard Major Tom as the Buddha of the space age, clinging as he lifts off from earth, “tell my wife I love her very much,” but greeting the news of his unexpected disconnection from ground control with great equanimity.
We who have not traveled in space and have no reason to think that we ever will likely perceive ourselves as being yet mostly well connected here on earth, although apparently we vary quite a bit on that metric. Some of us earth bound humans feel very disconnected from our fellow humans even with our feet firmly on the ground and with the ever increasing vehicles for at least attempting communication with each other.
The Buddha seems to have been very well connected, after he awakened, anyway, if not during his period of severe asceticism just before he awakened, but that is not the part of his life that we typically choose to emphasize. The reason to follow the Buddhist path is to end up fully awakened, without engaging in asceticism, which the Buddha concluded was not going to do what he wanted to do.
But he knew that lifetime would come to an end eventually, since what he realized was that everything rises and passes away, except what we call “consciousness,” which is like gravity in being a natural phenomenon that pervades the earth, perhaps the universe, and which we have access to if we just train our minds to turn down or off and turn our awareness towards it and learn to trust it.
That is how we achieve the deathless, or depart the cycle of death and rebirth that is samsara.
We do that by developing a consistent meditation practice, of course.
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