Monday, February 20, 2017

The Heritage of Human Sorrow


     Somewhere around 567 BC a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama was born in Lumbini , Nepal.  He grew up shielded from all suffering or at least that’s what we’re told.  But on the birthday of his first son and after being exposed to things like disease , old age and death he ran away from home in search of an answer to life. The fact that Buddha lived, and taught, and died is proved by an overwhelming amount of evidence.   After about five years of searching he sat under a tree and contemplated everything that he had seen and heard and been taught. He considered the human condition and after about 50 days of setting under that tree he had an epiphany. Some people choose to call it his enlightenment the older texts indicate that he himself referred to it as his awakening.  Upon due consideration he gave a sermon. That sermon is often called the first turning of the wheel. It was written down later on in the form of a doctor’s diagnosis and prescription as it would have been given in the time that Siddhartha lived.  What we now call the four noble truths were his observations that he considered self-evident. They are listed below.
      
Four Noble Truths

   1. Suffering exists
   2. Suffering arises from attachment to desires
   3. Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
   4. Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

            What we call science presently estimates that the modern form of humanity has been on the earth for about 200,000 years.  All things considered that a young prince should notice 2584 years ago that the most striking thing about the human condition was the heritage of human sorrow is not an amazing thing in and of itself. But it cannot be denied that his turning of this wheel and the medicine which he prescribed for that heritage of suffering changed the world forever.

            His prescription for mitigating this sorrow and the suffering is now called the eightfold path.  Literally thousands upon thousands of Buddhist practitioners, scholars and yogis have written and contemplated and analyzed and re-analyzed those two paragraphs which Siddhartha  taught so many years ago. And of course with each application of each individuals perception and intellect and their own experience of suffering there has resulted an almost endless parade of interpretations of those few words Buddha taught on so many years ago. 

            Modern Zen practitioners for the most part has surgically removed the concepts of karma and rebirth from the teachings. But even with this dissection the truth of Buddha's  observations still hold fast to the human condition.  Anyone who says they have never suffered is lying to you or to themselves or to both. 

     Now comes a few simple questions. Has your practice of Zen reduce the amount of suffering that you have experienced since you started practicing Zen?  Since you started practicing Zen have you changed?  Has your teachers words had the effect of reducing your suffering.  Are you happier now that you have sat for hours meditating than you were before?  Has the obscurity of Zen and it’s amorphous paradoxes  helped you in any way?  When you set under the steely gaze of your Zen master and he says you can expect nothing from Zen what’s really going on in your mind? 

            I only ask that you be truthful with yourself on dealing with these questions. You can brush them aside and ignore their consequence or you can give them due consideration the choice is of course always yours.

            Long ago when I was practicing another form of Buddhism I was taught a fable.  In which the teachings and precepts of Buddhism were boiled down into a little story that even a child could understand.  The ancient teacher of Buddhist wisdom looked up at an all powerful king who had just asked him what the nature of Buddhist teachings were. He responded that:

 

1.      Do as little harm as you can.

2.      Do as much good as you can.

3.      Try to purify your heart.

 

I have looked down the tunnel of time and taken unto myself this heritage of sorrow that we all carry with us. I have lived and died and been reborn upon the rising of each sun. It’s useless to tell people to change because change is inevitable.  It’s useless to raise your fist at the sky and curse your fate.  It is however absolutely mandatory that we look within ourselves for the truth that lies within.

If I had but a couple of minutes left of breath, and I wished to tell you something            before I go, it would be:

1.  Do as little harm as you can.

2.      Do as much good as you can.

3.      Try to purify your heart.

 Togen

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