A Western Buddhist's Travels

Sightseeing & detours on the path of enlightenment

More Meaning, more comfort, more fulfilling lives

Many of us are looking for a way to add meaning to our lives, to make us more comfortable, to give us exciting experiences, deeper relationships. The study of Buddhism will not satisfy those desires, and if that is your motivation, your practice will slowly fade away. However if your motivation for studying the Dharma is because you understand that suffering is a part of life, and that changing our external surroundings or location won’t satisfy that yearning inside us, you have attained the motivation to start you on this journey. When you realize that the health you enjoy today could be gone in a heartbeat, or that our loved ones could choose to leave our sides, or an economic downturn might cost us our secure comfortable homes and possessions, then you understand that while the external is always present, it is the internal that will bring a smile to our face. It is by breaking out of the velvet prisons we have built around ourselves, and feeling the sun, wind and rain on our faces that we truly begin to feel liberated. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring let alone a thousand years from now. We can no more predict what we will have for breakfast in a year, then what we will encounter in our next life, the only thing we know is the Dharma wheel keeps turning, sometimes inexorably slow, other times spinning so quickly we can’t hold on. Upon reaching this state we find the next motivation to take us further down the path. That motivation consists of removing ourselves from the suffering of samsara and achieving nirvana. I don’t mean nirvana as westerners sometimes think of it, as a heavenly place where there is no suffering. Rather as a state we can achieve in this lifetime. A state of being that can’t be described in words, for each person will see it slightly different, but it might be described as having left those thoughts and actions behind that in the past caused us pain and suffering. This is something we can not only aspire to in this life, but is achievable in this lifetime. Once we truly accept the second motivation, we have crossed the Dharmakaya River and no longer need the raft. We have achieved reaching to where Buddha pointed us to. But by reaching this point, we also have developed the compassion to look back. When we look back we see not only our family, but our friends and yet all the sentient beings trying to accomplish the crossing. Even most of those who haven’t achieved enlightenment, looking back at a raging river where their loved ones are struggling to stay afloat, would not say “I made it, see you suckers”, no most would look back see our children, spouse or parents suffering and dive right back in, knowing the hazards we face, but willing to pay the price. There is a song from Chris De Burgh with the line “Don’t pay the ferryman, till he gets you to the other side”. Being enlightened means even though there is no ferryman to pay, you accept that we are in a position of reaching back and helping others make it to nirvana. We don’t dive in rather we find ways to extend our reach, to throw a lifeline that is easily recognized and caught. For having achieved nirvana means we have the knowledge, that to help others we must be standing on the firm ground of the far bank, so as not to be swept away ourselves. We know that being on this side of the river and saving them mean they still have that dangerous river to cross, where as if we rescue them from the far side, they too will have achieved the safety of nirvana. I realize this may not be a perfect understanding or description, but it’s the best I can do at this time.

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