Another year has gone by since we last celebrated Enlightenment Day. During this past year, many new persons have joined our Sarasota Zen center and are sincere in their efforts to practice Dogen’s “shikan-taza”- just-sitting- zazen.
Today, we especially remember the day which the Buddha Gotama Siddharta became Enlightened and we should strengthen our resolution to enter this Enlightened World more fully.
Most of you have probablyheard the story of the Buddha’s Enlightenment but it is well to recall it today. In doing so, we realize more fully that this is the world of Enlightenment, and that the time to begin entering it is right NOW.
In Zen, we do not believe enlightenment is far away or in another world after we die. We believe it is to be found within this very moment.
Shakyamuni Buddha , the Enlightened One, believed this way also. He was born as Prince Siddhartha of the house of Shakya, some 2,600 years ago, and yet he could not remain satisfied with his riches when he observed the suffering in life that he saw all around him. He chose a life of wandering to learn the real meaning of suffering and he came to be called the “Wise and enlightened One who teaches the way of Enlightenment.”
After long ascetic practices, which brought him close to exhaustion, the Prince realized he was as far as ever from the liberation from suffering, and, after he took nourishment to refresh his body and his mind, he began to sit in meditation which we call zazen today. The Prince sat beneath a bodhi tree in deep Samadhi meditation, and it was then that his spiritual eye was opened. He then became known as the Enlightened One, the wise One.
The prince Siddhartha had found the way of true liberation from the suffering in life due to his seated deep Samadhi meditation. This is the event we remember and celebrate today.
Enlightenment Day should be very meaningful for us. We should deeply realize that this Enlightenment is just as possible for us, as it was for the Buddha.
Unfortunately, too many people think of the Buddha and of his enlightenment as being far removed. Because it happened long ago, the Buddha is often times thought of as being a distant entity, even like a god, and his Enlightenment is thought of as a heaven-like state, waiting for us- after we die. This common way of thinking of the Buddha and his Enlightenment is completely wrong from the Zen point of view. The meaning of Enlightenment Day is that enlightenment can be experienced, right now, for each of us.
Let me share with you the story of the Light Shining in the World. This story is taken from one of the 84,000 Buddhist Scriptures that were taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and his followers. This sutra is called: ”Dai Ichi Doron”. Perhaps it will make the meaning of Enlightenment in your life more clear to you. This story goes:
Once upon a time, a stupid man entered a dark, deep cave in a mountain. The darkness bothered him, so every day and every evening, he tried to sweep it out from the mouth of the cave with a big broom. But, however he tried, the darkness never left. The stupid man did not understand why the darkness remained. He stopped sweeping, stood with his arms folded upon one another, and shook his head in disbelief and wonder. At that time, another man suddenly appeared holding a pine tree branch that had been made into a torch. As the man entered the cave, the darkness suddenly disappeared. The cave became light.
In this story, the stupid man finally realized how dumb he was. He saw how he could not sweep out the darkness, but had to illumine the cave with light. This story is very appropriate for this Enlightenment Day because the cave in it is so similar to our human condition. The darkness in the cave is the ignorance to be found in the human mind.
A person is always suffering in this darkness of ignorance. We can try to chase out the darkness from our minds, but as we do so, the suffering just increases. But, the darkness that has been in the cave for a thousand years is suddenly lightened by one small torch. In the same way, our human minds’ ignorance can be dispelled by a small light. There are many kinds of light to illumine your mind.
The greatest and the most precious light for the human life is the Buddha’s light of Dharma (Truth).
This light has continued down through the centuries fromthe BuddhatohisPatriarchs; from Zen Mastersandtheir disciples; and then on down to each of us. In the days when the Buddha taught upon the earth, a hundred of his disciples listened to his teachings and became awakened from the Buddha directly. They made an effort to build a peaceful and a happy world. This teaching has continued down to us today. Each of us can find it for ourselves.
The founder of the Sojiji Zen Monastery (one of the two head quarter temples for Soto Zen shu-ji in Japan), Master Keizan once said: No one should think or dream of 2,500 years ago. Instead, you should just put all your effort into practicing Buddhism in your life. You can do this right now. You do not have to travel into the past. You will feel the spirit of the Shakyamuni Buddha’s heart. You will be able to feel the spirit of the disciple, Kasho, when he understandingly took the flower from the smiling Buddha’s hand, and gazed at it in silence. The spirit of the Buddha and his quiet understanding can be known to you today.
Master Keizan warns Zen Buddhists not to think that the Buddha’s light is shining far away in the heavens. When it is said that it is passed down century after century, it does not mean that its light of truth remains burning far away. Do not look for it in the distance.
In Zen, what is the Buddha’s light? What is the light of the Buddha’s teaching?
Many people still look for it far away- in books, in temples, and in other individuals. The Buddha’s light was within you when you were born. When you find this light shining within you, the darkness in your life will disappear and your life will shine of itself. You need not continue to sweep away the darkness ignorantly; you need only to light a lamp.
Our practice of Zen meditation will enable you to find this “inner-light” of the Buddha. As the Buddha became enlightened while sitting in meditation, so can you! This is the true meaning of Enlightenment Day, and it is a message that we should remember day by day. Our life of Zen is to be lived every day, and each day, its light must be lit by the effort of our zazen during our seated Zen meditation.
It is in our Zen meditation that we have already entered into the world of the awakened, fully-enlightened Buddha, that is, you and whole universe have become One. Through our practicing Zen we are liberated from all limitations and obstructions which would otherwise becloud one, and we gain strength to live a rich and meaningful life without fear. Zen enables us to live fully and dynamically.
As we chant the Zen scriptures (sutras) the powerful medicine mantras of Zen gives us crystal clear insight of ourselves and of the world. Zazen, our seated meditation is the yoga-like discipline of the Buddha, which clears both our body and mind with Perfect Samadhi.
In closing let us recall another one of the founder of our Soto Zen faith Dogen Zenji’s, saying: “Shu Sho Ichi Nyo- Practice and Enlightenment are One”. Please continue to attend our weekly Zen meditation class- for yourself and for the welfare of all sentient beings.
Reverend Daito Zenei, Osho