Siddharta had one question on his mind: Why? Why suffering, why sickness, aging, death? Why loss, unhappiness, and why is happiness fleeting? Why?
Siddharta would ask others, some sages, some questioners just like him. He would ask himself, a sort of Oedipal dialogue with his psyche. When these did not supply a response large enough to answer all the variations on the theme of why suffering and the human condition, he thought he could starve it out of himself. He tried the ascetic way of deprivation and harsh extremes. Maybe he figured that the only way to get at such an over-the-top understanding would be by getting rid of everything, including body, physical requirements, and any measure of satiety. This didn’t work either.
One day, on the verge of death by starvation, he fell over on a river bank. A girl cowherd came by. She just happened to have a bowl of rice milk. She nourished him, and her gentle, simple kindness brought him back from the brink of suicide in the guise of selflessness and spiritual search. One, including the Buddha, can wonder if at that pont it was either.
A cowherd, a female cowherd, in a culture where teenage girls were property, looked upon as dirty, and certainly not to speak to a man she did not know. Taurus is the first sign of relation in the zodiac. And relation plays out in any way, every way that humanity wants. All of it is Taurus and Scorpio, its other half. The cowherd is Venus, totally pure yet decried as dirty. She is of the earth, of the Bull-Cow that holds the secret of the Single Eye of Illumination, as well as is the nurturer of body with food and the keeper of the hearth with dung for the fires. The cowherd is property who tends property. Modernly this begs the question of are we slaves to our possessions? Do we work for a living or like a beast of burden live to work? What drives our passions, our haves and lacks? What siren is herding us onto the rocks of hollowness and insatiability?
This Venus-cowherd came with milk of the earth – rice milk, not animal milk. Our animal nature was not vibrationally in the elixir that brought Siddharta back from Death’s almost grasp. And when he would awaken to the simple brilliant answer that still rings through humanity’s consciousness, he would touch the earth and call it his witness. With that touch he, like Christ 600 years later, would transmit the power of Presence into the earth and ensure its accessibility to anyone.
Wesak is the celebration of awakeness. It is the reminder that no one and no thing is what appearance suggests it is. The cowherd girl was, in that moment, sunyata (space, empty). To the person she was helping, she was kindness and nourishment. She was empty of caste or hesitation. She was the perfect meeting of a need. And that simple perfect sunyata-empty moment in space-time would carry Siddharta through to the outcome he desired: an answer to all his questions. In the simplicity of meeting a need as it needed to be met, the cowherd girl was key to Siddharta’s locked intention. He had a desire, we all do. And his was no more lofty or pure or special than any other desire that anyone has. He got it and, I feel in my heart of hearts, that Siddharta took that cup of rice milk – that skull cup of his mortification in the mirage nectar of rice milk – and that that was the start of his enlightenment. Forty-nine days later – a day for each bardo, an eternity for each desire to be understood, resolved, and to be recognized as the solution for all the questions, forty-nine days later under a tree born of the earth, Siddharta awakened from the stupor of desire to understanding it on its own terms.
There is suffering. That cannot be questioned or avoided.
There is a cause of suffering. It is desire. That is undeniable and incontrovertible.
Suffering can be ceased.
There are steps that lead to its cessation.
The steps are born out of the classical Hindu system of karma yoga and jnana yoga but the Buddha’s clarification added the important factor of emptiness: egolessness, identity-lessness, and the wisdom that perceives through appearances. This is “wisdom,” the last of the Eightfold Path.
For some, the celebration of Wesak is a Buddhist day of remembrance called the Festival of Lights. For some, it is a time of meditation with the Hierarchy of masters, saints, sages, and initiates of the ages. And for some it is a combination of these and a reminder that we hold the answer to any and all questions within our heart-mind. Anything that takes us away from that center of gravity (earth/Taurus) will simply weigh us down. Illumination is a result of the single view of all held within the emptiness of compassion and its wisdom.
Buddha discovered that all is empty and that he is empty too.