The Mystery Of Buddhism

April 19, 2014 at 5:43 pm Leave a comment

I am an admirer of Master Nan Huai-Chin, whose books Working Toward Enlightenment and To Realize Enlightenment I have always found difficult but helpful. They are not easy-going, but Master Nan is so knowledgeable and his experience so vast and  wide-ranging that he is always insightful. According to Master Nan I cannot realise enlightenment because I am not celibate, but in many other respects I try to live by the Buddhist precepts he advocates. I will have to leave enlightenment for another lifetime.

The first volume Working Toward Enlightenment starts with an interesting conversation and question, leading to one of his characteristic insights. He writes,

There is a story behind this book. An old friend, Mr. Xiao, came to see me. As he was about to leave. he asked me a question: “Shakyamuni Buddha left home when he was 18, and finally – much later, after years of effort- lifted his head, saw a bright star, and was enlightened. What was it that he was enlightened to? “

Master Nan explains that he answered his friend by saying that the Buddha was enlightened to interdependent causation and inherent emptiness. Mr. Xiao said ” Oh… right”, pushed the door open , and left. This exit left Master Nan disturbed. Mr Xiao was a serious student of Buddhism. “If someone else asked this question, it wouldn’t matter much, but since he was asking this question, it was very serious. In other words, when he asked this question, it had extraordinary depth.”

So what was it that the Buddha was enlightened to? Master Nan confirms that he awakened to inherently empty interdependent origination. But the point is that the Buddha awakened to it after 12 years of practicing all sorts of techniques and studying with a number of teachers. It took him years of effort to bring himself to the point where just stopping his meditation for a moment and looking up into the night sky to see a bright star brought him to enlightenment. It was a matter of an experience, a truth discovered through practice,  whereas Master Nan points out that you and I can open up any book on Buddhism and we can read about these principles and truths that we have not experienced, except through reading them.

Master Nan says that we are “inverting cause and effect”, taking the truths and principles that the Buddha discovered and adding them intellectually to our lives, without going through the experience that would really make them truths for ourselves, real lived experience. I have an idea of what the Buddha was enlightened to when he looked at that star, but it’s still more intellectual speculation- words. I won’t bother putting it down here, since this question – What was it the Buddha was enlightened to? – is a kind of Koan, a question to mull over and penetrate, until finally the answer (if there is one) comes out of your practice.

 

 

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