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The Buddha God and Reality

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by Sangharakshita

... of the life of the Buddha, we know that the Buddha was born in the Lumbini garden, we know how he was educated, we know how he left his home, know how he gained enlightenment at the age of thirty five, know how he preached his teaching, his discover, know how he founded his Sangha and we know how finally he passed away. We know this, we understand all this quite well. But there is one thing that we don*t always understand, or at least that we don*t always bear in mind, even if it does occur to us, and this is the fact that the life of the Buddha, the biography of the Buddha deals in a sense with two quite different people. Deals with two quite different people. One we may call Siddhartha, the other we may call the Buddha. And these two people, dealt with by the Buddha*s life, the Buddha*s biography, these two are divided from each other by the event, the fact of the Enlightenment. Up to the Enlightenment Siddhartha, after the Enlightenment, the Buddha. Of course we usually do understand quite well that the Buddha*s Enlightenment was the central event of his life. But in what way do we usually think of it? We usually think as the Buddha*s life rather like this, here was the Buddha at home, living with his life and his child, and then he goes forth, so there is a little sort of ascent, he goes a bit higher. Then he practices meditation in the jungle, yes, then he sits down at Bodhgaya after five years, gains Enlightenment - there*s a little slope, and then like that. This is how we think, graphically, of the Buddha*s life, as it were. In other words the Enlightenment is a peak with a gentle slope up to it and a gentle slope, perhaps, down, from it. So this rather illustrates the way in which we think of the Buddha before and after the Enlightenment. The way in which we think of Siddhartha and the Buddha. We tend to think that the Buddha, after his Enlightenment, was more or less the same as if he was before except of course that he was Enlightened. And we ourselves, had we been around at the time and had we known the Buddha, say, a few months before he was Enlightened and a few months after he was Enlightened, we might not have been able to perceive any difference, any difference at all perhaps. We would have seen, after all, the same physical body, probably the same clothes, and he was speaking the same language and he had the same general sort of characteristics. We might not, in fact we almost certainly would not have been able to perceive any difference before and after. So therefore, we tend to regard the Enlightenment, the Buddha*s Enlightenment as a sort of just last finishing touch to a process which as been going on for a very long time. The sort of hair that turns the scale, just that little difference that makes all .the difference. But really, we may say, it isn*t like that at all. Not in the least like that.

We may say that Enlightenment, the Buddha*s Enlightenment, or anybody else*s Enlightenment represents the point of intersection, as it were, of time and eternity. The point of intersection of time and eternity. Strictly speaking, of course, it is only a line which can intersect another line. So eternity isn*t a line. We can represent time as a line but not eternity as a line. So in a way you can*t really speak of eternity intersecting time as though it was another line, another time, as it were. It is ridiculous to speak of it in that way. So perhaps we should think rather in terms of time, that is to say a line, which at a given point, just stops. At this so called point of intersection it isn*t intersected by another line, the first line, merely time, just stops. Instead of propogating itself indefinitely, it stops, it disappears, as it were, into a new dimension. It is rather like the flowing of a river into the ocean. The ocean represents the new dimension, the river is time, the ocean is eternity if you like. This simile is, of course, rather hackneyed, but it is still rather useful if one doesn*t take it too literally and perhaps it is possible to improve on it to some extent. Suppose we do that. Suppose we just assume, or we imagine, that the ocean into which our river is flowing is just over the horizon.

So what does one see? One sees the river flowing and flowing to the horizon, but you don*t see the ocean into which the river is flowing. So it seems as though the river is flowing into nothingness, flowing into a void, it just stops at the horizon, because that is the point where it enters the new dimension which we cannot see. So time is like that, time just stops as it were at eternity, time just comes to an end, time is succeeded by eternity, and this is what we mean by Enlightenment. Enlightenment is just like that. Siddhartha disappears, just like the river disappearing at the horizon and the Buddha takes his place. This is of course from the standpoint of eternity. From the standpoint of time Siddhartha becomes the Buddha, he developes into the Buddha, grows into the Buddha, evolves into the Buddha. But from the standpoint of eternity Siddhartha just ceases to exist and there is the Buddha, who has of course been there all the time.

Now this difference of approach, approach in terms of time, approach in terms of eternity, is at the bottom of the whole controversy between the gradual school of Zen and the abrupt school of Zen. You probably remember that in the early days of Zen, or rather Chan in China, there were these two branches of the Chan or Zen school, those who believed that Enlightenment was attained suddenly, in a sudden sort of flash or illumination, and those who believed that it was attained gradually, step by step, by patient effort and practice. And you remember also that in the platform scripture Hui Neng tries to clear up this whole controversy by saying that it isn*t that there is a gradual path, and that it isn*t that there is a sudden path or abrupt path, it is merely that some people gain Enlightenment more quickly than others, presumably because they make a greater effort. And this is true. But one can also go rather more deeply than this.

The abrupt realization, or the abrupt attainment of Enlightenment, we may say, has got nothing to do with speed within time. When one speaks of the abrupt path, or the abrupt school, or the.

abrupt realization of Enlightenment, one doesn*t mean that one has speeded up the same process within time. It doesn*t mean that if you take the usual process of attaining Enlightenment, as it goes on within time, and you just speed it up, you just get it through more quickly. It doesn*t mean that whereas normally you might spend fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years on the gradual path, you speed it all up and you compress that into, say, one year, or even a month, or even a week, or even a minute. It isn*t that. The abrupt path, we may say, is outside time altogether. And sudden Enlightenment is simply the point at which this new dimension, this dimension of eternity outside time is entered. So one cannot, as it were, reach this point, one cannot reach this point, as it were, of eternity by speeding up the process of realization within time. You can never get closer to eternity by speeding up your process of approach to eternity wiithin time. Within time you just have to stop. But at the same time,.

paradoxically, you can*t stop without first having speeded up.

This puts one in mind of the story of Angulimala, which I have often referred to. Its a rather instructive story because it illustrates this question of these two dimensions. Some of you may remember that Angulimala was a famous bandit, and there is a very long story about how he became a bandit, sometime we might tell it but it is rather a long story so we*ll skip over the early stages, the early chapters, today, and start as it were in the middle, when Angulimala was living in a great forest somewhere in central India and he had a rather unpleasant habit of catching people, travelers who were passing through the forest and chopping off their fingers.

And he made for himself a garland of fingers, a garland of hands, and that was why he was called Angulimala, angula is finger, and angulimala is one who has a garland of fingers, mala is garland. So he was called Angulimala because he used to chop people*s fingers off and string all these fingers into a garland and he wore the garland round his neck. At the time when the story begins he apparantly had ninety-eight fingers, and he wanted to have a hundred. And the Buddha was about to pass through that forest, and people who knew about Angulimala tried to dissuade the Buddha, and they said that you shouldn*t go through the jungle, it*s dangerous, Angulimala lives there and as soon as he sees you, well he will just have a finger off your hand. And in fact that very day Angulimala had been getting a bit desperate. (Laughter) His old mother was living with him in the forest and cooking for him, a devoted old soul and he decided that he*d have her finger that day, he was fed up with waiting any longer (laughter) and maybe she used to nag him a bit, so he decided to have her finger to make ninety-nine, and he*d be looking round for the hundreth one. So as soon as he saw the Buddha coming, because of course the Buddha didn*t listen to the village folk, he just ignored their warnings and just set off, as soon as he saw the Buddha coming he changed his mind about cutting off his mother*s finger first, he thought `Well I can always come back ancd chop off her finger, so I*ll go and get the finger from this monk, this Sramana, who has entered the forest*. So we are told it was a beautiful afternoon, a very peaceful sort of atmosphere, there was this little trail just winding through the jungle and the birds were singing in the trees, it was all very quiet and very peaceful, and there was the Buddha just very meditatively walking along, very slowly, left, right, left, right, just ...

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