Thursday, May 23, 2013

Celebrating Buddha's Birthday (Vesak) in LA

Ashley Wells: Seven and Maya, Wisdom Quarterly; Bhante, Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara
The Buddha reclining into final-nirvana, Buddhist island of Sri Lanka (Vasnic64/flickr)

LA devotees in SL (Cyrille Gibot)
The history of Buddhism in the West is much more amazing than most American Buddhists know. It preceded Christianity.
Maya, what does "preceded" mean again?

"It means 'came before.'" So what are we saying, that Buddhism (the historical Buddha's Dharma or Teaching) was here before the Word of the Lord of the Romans and Jews (St. Issa)?
Yes, but we are not saying that; Rick Fields is. He proves it in How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America (

Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka (Sallyrango/flickr)
Long ago, one of the devas entered our world with no idea of going back. The goal was not to stay either. What other option is there? Transcending.

Once in a dream I entered from above. I descended onto the scene and saw myself there, all things already complete and the scene already in progress. I wondered, "How did I get here," and I remembered the immediately preceding thing but not much more than that.

Budh (awakening) under a Bo tree
When I awake from this dream (this maya, this illusion), will I exit stage right, stage left, or with a wench to the ceiling? No, of course not, none of those designations apply. I will transcend, "wake up," see the scene dissolve, for it was all an illusion.

Then is this world, this birth, this life (or life in general) an "illusion"?
In a sense it is. 
In what sense?
It seems permanent (fixed), but it's dissolving and unraveling (in flux), dynamic and never static.

It seems delightful (sukha), but it's disappointing and unpleasant (dukkha), displeasing and never finally satisfying/fulfilling.

It seems personal (full of I, me, and mine), but it's distant and estranged (anatta), deluding and never really possessed for all the painful grasping, clinging, and attachment that goes on.

Maya's dream, the Buddha's awakening
So in that sense -- in the sense of never gaining insight into these Three Marks of Existence -- life is an illusion. And "life" in general includes this birth in specific.
So, you know, people will say, "Of course, this life ain't much, but wait for heaven." To that it must be said, as great as heaven is, and how great those akasha deva lokas are can hardly be overstated, these marks are true of heaven, too.

No comments: