Enlightenment: A Call To Action

I read an interesting Facebook post from screenwriter and author, David Gerrold today. He wrote about the Buddha and enlightenment. The article starts like this (quote): “The story of Buddha, the short version, is that he was a prince or a noble of some sort. When he saw the great poverty of the people, he abandoned his riches and became a stoic. After a while, he realized that was a mistake as well and then he sat under a Bodhi tree for a while and became enlightened.”

A very short version indeed. The Buddha discovered that life is full of suffering. With enlightenment came the ability to deal with the suffering in your mind and finally the ability to eliminate suffering from your life through changing the way you think about it. This, according to Buddhism, is enlightenment. He spent the rest of his life teaching these things to others. That’s all fine, writes Gerrold but:

“If he truly was a prince or a noble. If he truly was rich, then he was in a position to actually help the people living in great poverty. There were things he could have created — hospitals, schools, shelters for the homeless. He could have been more than some eccentric old guy sitting under a tree saying stuff that’s supposed to make people feel good about what’s going on inside their heads.”

It’s an interesting thought. In other words, it’s good to know about the troubles of individuals, and of the world, but knowing is not enough. Once you know, and if you are in a position to, you should be doing something about it. As an example, he say’s this: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

The author also left this comment: “I will add a note to that. I wash the dishes every morning. It’s a relaxing ritual while the coffee perks. This is how enlightenment turns a chore into a service — I am being in service to my son and daughter-in-law. I am making a difference by providing a cleaner space for all of us. I am still chopping wood and carrying water, but now I understand why I am chopping wood and carrying water. I do it as a service.”

These are some good things to think about. We know about the troubles of the world. We see it and read about it in the news everyday. But knowing is not enough. I’ve read books about Buddhism, about monks spending their lives in meditation. But I often wondered, what good does this do beyond the good of the monk doing the meditation. Enlightenment is awareness, Gerrold writes: “But awareness itself is useless — unless you roll up your f**king sleeves and do something. If you are not going to work and making a difference, your enlightenment is merely narcissism in drag.”

Do something. Anything. Even something as simple as writing about what’s happening to people, to bring awareness. And then people turn that awareness into action. Even, Gerrold says, doing the dishes in order to create a cleaner space. Being in service to others, even if it is something as simple as smiling and greeting the cashier at your grocery store. Even that is a service. It can help brighten someones day, and who knows what they might do with that. They might go home after work and be nicer to their neighbors. And do it without expecting anything in return. If we do things because they should be done, and not for some kind of reward, (like a “thank you”) we’re providing a service to others, and that in turn is enlightenment. Knowing you’re doing things that should and need to be done to make a better world without expecting or desiring a reward.

So let’s go out and do stuff. There is a lot of injustice in our country and right here in our towns. Let’s make things better. Be encouraging, smile, or open a door for someone. Or go out and build houses for Habitat for Humanity. A lot of us are busy people. Many don’t have time to build houses. But we have time to smile. We have time to help someone load their groceries into their car. This is enlightenment.

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Just Breathe


Random crystal snowflakes fell through the yellow
sodium light of a pathway lamp and on into shadow.
The breeze was light as ducks on the river voiced
their displeasure at the interruption of my passing.

My breath counting came into unison with my footsteps
and suddenly everything slowed as I slowed and the
snow and the ducks and my breath and the air and
my thoughts all came into perfect harmony and

I, for the first time in my life experienced what
Buddhist nuns and monks have spent centuries
seeking, perfect enlightenment. A feeling of such
beauty and peace as to be indescribable.

Harmony of body and soul, and of mind were mine
and in one split second were gone and I felt
such a profound sense of loss, an ache of heart
that I fell to my knees and wept.

Why, I asked, would the universe come together
for me to experience, just to have it ripped away
and leave a truck sized hole in my middle?
Why should I, a random person, be given this?

Only to have it taken away again so that even
moments later I could hardly remember what it was
like at all. Breathing as if I were punched in
the stomach, I stayed on my knees and felt emptiness.

And now, hours later I have to ask myself, did I
really find enlightenment on the path, in the park
of a small mid-western town in Winter or did I
just imagine what my mind told me it might be like?

Imagine, the unimaginable? Did I tell myself this
is what you’ve been seeking, you and everyone who’s
ever went down this path and you’ve hardly begun
your journey but here’s a taste of it, so here ya go?

And now I sit with the feeling of loss for something
I’ve not even gained, the loss of something I can’t
explain, or describe. All I can do it seems is, sit
and breathe and not think about it. Just breathe.