Thursday, September 20, 2018

Ready for Enlightenment? The Ready Ones

Ananda Pereira (Buddhist Publication Society,, Escape to Reality: Buddhist Essays (Wheel #45/46); Amber Larson, Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

The Ready Ones
You yourselves must make the effort,
Wayfarers (buddhas) are only teachers.
Meditative ones who enter the Way
Escape the bonds of Māra (Death).

In the previous essay we said that Buddhism is a practice for mental adults. It does not sugarcoat the bitter pills of life or pretend that death is the gateway to everlasting happiness in heaven.
It does not promise easy salvation in exchange for unquestioning blind faith in some supreme deity. It teaches self-reliance and the importance of personal responsibility.

No teacher, however wise and kind, can help those who refuse to learn. By fulfilling the Ten Perfections (dasa pāramī), a being who aspires to be a buddha [a fully enlightened being, whether a personal-buddha, a non-teaching buddha, or a teaching buddha] develops the qualities necessary to become an unrivalled teacher of devas and humans.

One is not thereby “atoning” for the foolishness or wickedness of others, although one sacrifices life itself, again and again, during this long period of preparation.

Nobody, however noble-minded, can atone for the faults of others. One can only improve oneself. In the case of a being striving for buddhahood, this process of self-improvement goes far beyond the level sufficient for purely personal liberation.

One wishes to help others as well. But one can only do so by teaching them how to help themselves. There is no "salvation" by proxy. This may sound like a harsh or heartless teaching, but it is a reasonable one full of heart.

And it fits into the pattern of life as we know it: One cannot eat for another or learn swimming for another or keep healthy for another. Nor can one “atone” for the foolishness or wickedness of another. Each must pay his or her own debts and shape the destiny one wishes for. Even supremely enlightened teaching buddhas can only show the way. They point; they do not walk the path for us.

A buddha ("awakened one"), also called a "wayfarer" (tathāgata), is a teacher in the truest and highest sense of the word. One cannot place a limit on the value of such a remarkable teacher.

Life after life, through countless lives and aeons (kalpas), beings live in darkness. They cling to this false belief or to that. They live, die and live again, on and on, now in states of pleasure, now in states of agony. But they do not know how to gain freedom from it all.

Then, like the dawning of a brilliant day, a buddha appears. He teaches the Way to Freedom. Some leap to this Teaching (Dharma) and profit from practice by it immediately. They are the ready ones, like the great arhats of the Buddha’s day.

For them, a single stanza or phrase may suffice. Others may take a little longer to learn. Still others do not learn at all. They are as unprepared for the Buddha-Dharma as a kindergartner is unprepared for the theory of relativity.

Who are those ready ones who profit immediately by the appearance of a buddha? According to the Buddha they are those who are meditative.

Already, on their own, perhaps in many past lives, they have trained themselves to think clearly. They have developed their minds/hearts. To them, the “effort” of following the Buddha’s Teaching is a glad one. They do not yearn after the so-called prizes of life, the wealth, the power, the worldly advancement that others find so alluring.

They see much greater worth in such things as peace of mind, contentment, and freedom. They take easily to the Way and are delivered from the bonds of Māra, the personification of Death -- the bonds of craving, ill-will, and ignorance. They win freedom. 
Greatness higher than rulership over all the earth,
Higher than sojourning in heavens supreme,
Higher than empire over all the realms,
Is fruit of entry to the Dharma stream.
We worldlings see greatness in worldly success. To us a reigning sovereign is great, a millionaire is great, a famous actor, or artist is great. We measure greatness by the yardstick of worldly power or fame.

To the Buddha greatness was something entirely different. He saw beings dying and getting reborn according to their karma.

He knew that an emperor can be reborn as a termite. He saw that, in this world of everlasting change, there is no security in worldly power, no stability in worldly fame. Death comes to the powerful and the famous just as surely as it comes to the weak and unknown. And with death there is a shedding of worldly power, wealth, and fame. Again and again it happens.
Seen against the background of eternal change, there is nothing real in worldly greatness. Even we worldlings can see things in this way if we take the Buddha’s Teaching to heart and use our intelligence. But few of us do so. That is why the Buddha said, “Blind is this world. Few are they who truly see.”

If, seeing things as they truly are, we refuse to grant that greatness is an attribute of worldly power, fame or success, must we conclude, that there is no such thing as greatness? The Buddha’s answer was to point to the stream-winner (sotāpanna), the being who has attained the first stage of full enlightenment, as that term is understood in Buddhism.

“There” said the Buddha, “is one who is greater than any reigning sovereign, than any celestial being, be he even a Brahmā.”

And be it remembered there are three higher stages of enlightenment (beyond the first stage, which is called stream-entry), culminating in the attainment of final emancipation as an arhat or fully enlightened person. Why is this? A stream enterer... More

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