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Buddha touches the earth

I’m back. In peace.

Peace is the principle characteristic of awakening.

I’ve been waiting to write until I could do so very sincerely and state that I have had some clear awakening to report. Writing about Buddhism is very thick on the ground these days and one has good reason to be careful about whom one listens to. I have recently stumbled across a few teachers who clearly have significant academic training in Buddhism. One reads multiple translations of the sutras into English, then explains why he does not like any of them and offers his own.

Academic training in Buddhism is not necessary for awakening. I have none. I do tend to intellectualize everything, which is a problem. The intellect can get in the way of wisdom, which is not intellectual. But in order to pursue awakening or enlightenment, I first had to come up with my own, intellectually satisfying, explanation of what it meant. Just my thing.

But awakening is not an intellectual event. To intellectualize is, by definition, to abstract, to think about, to label. Awakening is a very direct experience that anyone can have.

Recent realizations that have helped me quite a bit include the point that everything must occur within awareness. What you are not aware of is irrelevant. Awareness is like gravity, omnipresent but invisible. It must extend to the edge of the universe, if the universe has an edge.

Note that realizations are often blindingly obvious once you have them. I often feel kind of silly reporting my realizations because I am embarrassed at having to admit that the thought was new to me. A really good recent example is the (really obvious) point that the impermanence of all phenomena necessarily includes my individual identity. The person who is typing this will cease to exist some day. That is true of all human beings.

One thought that followed and confirmed for me my awakening was that it feels a bit odd to be in this body.

I am not awakened at the level of the Buddha. One of the claims he made after his awakening was that he remembered all of his past lives. I remember none of mine. But feeling a bit odd to be in this body is at least a suggestion of other lives that I could compare to this one if I do remember them.

The thing that really pushed me over the edge was realizing that Buddha mind knows everything. This is an enormously appealing idea to me. I want to know everything myself. I do not know everything. Yet. But identifying with Buddha mind is an excellent first step.

The Buddha claimed that we all have Buddha mind, we just don’t realize it. So go looking for your Buddha mind. You’ll know it when you find it. Then I had the thought that the Buddha mind speaks in silence, so one has to get very, very quiet inside one’s head to hear what it is saying. I was listening to another person who has a Ph.D. from Harvard that awakening is a matter of identity, of how we identify ourselves and our relationships with the rest of the world.

That made me think, I am Buddha.

The Buddha said, we are all Buddhas. The historical Buddha no longer exists. The way I explain to myself what happened to him is that, after he died, he dissipated into space completely.

The part that will be hard for western readers to believe or appreciate is a key point in Buddhism — thought is what really matters. We are very materialist in the west. We tend to see matter — things — as determinative. Europeans largely conquered the world by force, but we now begin to see the terrifying consequences. It seems that the primary motivating thought behind that conquering force is greed, which is really bad in the long run.

But we are here to talk about awakening. To identify yourself as a Buddha, you have to let go of your current identity, which the Buddha says is a fiction anyway. This can be difficult. I had a very hard time getting any distance from my own, default sense of my identity. Pay attention to what you want, from the broadest goals of your life to what you want for lunch. What any person wants is unique to that person. What you want reflects more or less conscious choices. Whether you want a peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwich for lunch is necessarily something you are aware of. And you could also change it, if you want to.

Many teachers refer to identifying as the Buddha as realizing “the deathless.” Your default identity, as above, will cease. You will die. I will die. All humans will die. Buddha mind is a universal characteristic of the universe. It never dies. Once you identify with it, your body will still die, but your consciousness will dissipate into space and you will never have another birth, so you will never die again.

Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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