The teachings of the Buddha stand as possibly the most applicable philosophy ever uttered on this planet. From his first spoken words after sitting for seven weeks in the raging light of Enlightenment until his last forty-plus years later, everything was offered to be understood, used, to demystify existence, and to help people learn to think. His cadre of exemplars include Lao Tsu, Confucius, Pythagoras, Plato, and Socrates. In each case, philo-sophia–the love of Truth– deep, everlasting principles that decode the veils of ignorance, were their gifts and still are today. We, in our times of less luster would be well served to come back to the “essence of their refined gold.” There, in poetic phrases and life examples, are the models for personal and world transformation.
The Buddha was the alpha member of this quantum pack of brilliance, being born before the rest and seeding human consciousness with the power of enlightenment as it poured into and freed him.* If we carefully read the collection of epistemological (how to know, what is true knowledge?), axiological (values to live by), and metaphysical discoveries and contemplations given by the Buddha and these few, we would find the most complete ontological roadmap (reason for being) ever given.
Each of these giants is a mountain source for rivers of wisdom that continues to flow into our collective consciousness. Each has been the inspiration and key turner for those who would follow, birthing mathematics, music theory, ethics and values, and societal and political theory that, if lived accordingly, would create right human relations. Human dignity in relation to all life, and the circle of Wholeness that is a metaphysical, epistemological, and axial life was taught. Those who tried it, found well-being in every way. Health of body, spirit, and mind was known as one whole, no part was divided from the rest. Each of these philosophers approached the particulars within the norms of their cultures and pointed toward lasting change, lived the changes they advised, doing so matter of factly. It’s easy. Just do it. Make your reality real. Mysteriously, the teachings of the Buddha found their way into the mouths and writings of some of the early Greek philosophers. Sometimes the sentences are almost identical. I believe that many of the first disciples of the Buddha, touched directly by his light and life, reincarnated to become such as Heraclitus, Democritus, the early Stoics, and possibly even Plato and Socrates. An interesting pondering or piece of research should anyone choose to read the works of these monuments of human consciousness with an intuitive eye.
It is the heirs of the Buddha that interest us in this series of posts. The Life and Teachings of Naropa are 1600 years removed from when the Buddha spoke, yet Naropa is a practicing Buddhist monk, trained Buddhist debater, and has vowed to live a life of compassion according to the teachings of the Muni (Shakyamuni Buddha). The Buddha’s heirs and offspring number in the hundreds. No other human being has spawned so many second-tier philosophers and inquirers of Truth and Supreme Knowledge. Each sect of Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana Buddhism has a founding person, one who experienced relative enlightenment and perceived through to Unoriginatedness. Each sect has its lineage of masters and adepts, all living a mind and heart stream of profound realization. With them, lay practitioners such as you and I can experience a measure of the profound and apply our realizations to our personal and global life because the Buddha spoke, lived, and offered.
Naropa continues on his journey seeking the Guru for instruction. Like us all, instruction and the Teacher are in every moment, without exception. The teaching might be about joy and ease, or how to change a difficulty to something else, about release, let, include, ask. Who knows? But each moment of time, each conversation or silence, each taste of Nature or food is the guru and instruction on well-being. Naropa keeps missing the obvious.
He found a “rascal” on the bank of a river who had “opened the stomach of a live man and was washing it with warm water.” Naropa asked him if he had seen Tilopa. The man said, “Yes, but before I show him, help me.” Naropa refuses, and once again everything is absorbed in rainbow light and the Guru’s voice sounds.
“How will you find the Guru if with the water of profound instruction
You cleanse not Samsara, which by nature is free yet represents the dirt of habit-forming thoughts?”
The teachings always build upon themselves like learning to read. Life builds upon itself: root to stem to leaf to flower, dead leaves and stems compost for new life. Life time after life time we, too, build upon the experiences and knowledge that we have lived and gained. Awareness builds upon itself. Naropa’s last encounter had similar components: guts, bodies, a seemingly gruesome scene that is trying to shock Naropa out of his habit-formed thinking and release his mind. Tilopa is giving instruction, all Naropa has to do is notice. Tilopa is sitting on the river bank, he is the “rascal.” He is the live man whose stomach has been removed in order to be cleansed. Tilopa is the cleansing warm water of the river. At the same time, none of it exists except in a guru and would-be disciple telepathic interplay in Naropa’s mind.
Tilopa is a rascal, as often enlightened ones are. They are not limited by convention, conventions being thoughts and limitations. He has not simply walked up to Naropa and said, “Hey, I hear you’re looking for me.” Instead, like a hummingbird at a flower, we have to be where we can receive the fullness of that mysterious moment. Stomach? What feeds you, Tilopa is asking. Are you being nourished in ways such that you are thriving in awareness? If not, cleanse the habit-formed thoughts in your mind, wash them away with a flowing gnosis that understands life. It is like a river; it bends, turns, has rapids and calm pools. It all is the river, it all is nourishing, it all is awareness. Tilopa states that Samsara (suffering and a limited lived reality) unto itself is free – it is not what we think. Naropa, nothing is what you think. Samsara merely displays the reality we are choosing to live and thus identify with. The trouble is that almost everyone else is doing the same, so Samsara has become a collective mega-illusion. Ignorance builds upon itself, and misery loves company, right?
Tilopa keeps showing Naropa that awareness loves company. Awareness, freedom, equanimity, kindness, gratitude, these things build upon themselves too. This is the Path of human awakening.
* Dates for some princes of Mind
- Buddha: sometime between 624-563-486-483 BC in India
- Confucius: 551-449 BC in China
- La Tsu: sometime between 600-200 BC in China
- Pythagoras: sometime between 580-560-500 BC in Ancient Greece (Samos)
- Plato: 427-347 BC in Greece
- Socrates: 470-399 BC in Greece