Bob Schwartz

Tag: Buddha

Happy Buddhaday to

The celebration of Vesak, also called Buddha Day, varies in detail from place to place around the world, from Buddhism to Buddhism, from Buddhist to Buddhist. This year it is May 18 or May 19 or another date. It is the Buddha’s birthday or the date of his enlightenment or the date of his death or all of them.

As a birthday, this is a Buddhaday poem. Sing the song and eat some cake.


Happy Buddhaday to

how many candles
on the Buddhaday cake
not one
not two

©

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Wake Up! It’s Bodhi Day.

Bodhi Day is December 8, marking the enlightenment of the Buddha.

bodhi. In Sanskrit and Pāli, “awakening,” “enlightenment”.
—Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

If the mad mind stops, its very stopping is bodhi.
—Śūraṅgama Sutra

Friend, wake up! Why do you go on sleeping?
The night is over— do you want to lose the day
the same way?
—Kabir, version by Robert Bly

Deepak Chopra’s Buddha, Written by Deepak Chopra and Joshua Dysart, Art by Dean Ruben Hyrapiet

 

 

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Buddha Bemidbar (In the Wilderness)

Moses is missing
In his place
Siddhartha sits.

Israelites are numbered
Can he free them?

The way in the wilderness
Is unpassable.
Can they pass it?

Too dark to sea
The waters give way
To dry ground
As if they were not there
From the beginning.

Walk on
The mountain next.

Bodhi Day: The Ancient Path

buddhas-of-the-celestial-gallery

“This was the third true knowledge attained by me in the last watch of the night. Ignorance was banished and true knowledge arose, darkness was banished and light arose, as happens in one who dwells diligent, ardent, and resolute.”

“Suppose, monks, a man wandering through a forest would see an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. He would follow it and would see an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Then the man would inform the king or a royal minister: ‘Sire, know that while wandering through the forest I saw an ancient path, an ancient road traveled upon by people in the past. I followed it and saw an ancient city, an ancient capital that had been inhabited by people in the past, with parks, groves, ponds, and ramparts, a delightful place. Renovate that city, sire!’ Then the king or the royal minister would renovate the city, and some time later that city would become successful and prosperous, well populated, filled with people, attained to growth and expansion.”

“So too, monks, I saw the ancient path, the ancient road traveled by the Perfectly Enlightened Ones of the past. And what is that ancient path, that ancient road? It is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is, right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. I followed that path and by doing so I have directly known aging-and-death, its origin, its cessation, and the way leading to its cessation. I have directly known birth … existence … clinging … craving … feeling … contact … the six sense bases … name-and-form … consciousness … volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading to their cessation. Having directly known them, I have explained them to the monks, the nuns, the male lay followers, and the female lay followers. This spiritual life, monks, has become successful and prosperous, extended, popular, widespread, well proclaimed among devas and humans.”

Saṃyutta Nikāya 12:65; II 104–7
In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

Right Trees (Bodhi Day)

buddha-comic-enlightenment

December 8 is Bodhi Day, known in Japan as Rohatsu, the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment.  

Right Trees (Bodhi Day)

Which tree
To sit under?
Study each one
Counting branches
Inspecting leaves.
Is the ground
Too soft or wet
The shade
Too dark?
Who can deny
The forest
Yet it shrinks
To dust
On a distant shore.
The moon and
The morning star
Are just enough light
To brighten the night
Waking to find
This tree
All trees
Are right.

I wondered how the Buddha knew which tree to sit under for that consequential meditation. An easy answer is that it didn’t matter, that any tree or all trees would do. Another answer is that it didn’t have to be a tree at all. Another of the infinite answers is that there was no tree, no moon or morning star, no sitting. Just waking up.

Vesak: Buddha Day

Sakyamuni Buddha

Today is Vesak, the holiday also known as Buddha Day.

Around the world, especially in Buddhist Asia, Vesak combines a celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and passing. This year the holiday was noted by the UN, by President Obama, by Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau, and by many others. This is part of the growing recognition that the world might benefit from even a little bit of Buddhism added to our complex, crazy and chaotic affairs.

Here is the Mangala Sutta (The Sutra on Happiness), a wise and uplifting discourse of the Buddha that is one of the best-loved and most frequently recited texts in the Southeast Asian Buddhist world.  Only twelve verses long, it is a recital of auspicious things, and along with texts such as the Metta Sutta, is believed to bring happiness and good fortune when chanted or heard.

The Sutra on Happiness

I heard these words of the Buddha one time when the Lord was living in the vicinity of Savatthi at the Anathapindika Monastery in the Jeta Grove. Late at night, a deva appeared whose light and beauty made the whole Jeta Grove shine radiantly. After paying respects to the Buddha, the deva asked him a question in the form of a verse:

“Many gods and men are eager to know
what are the greatest blessings
which bring about a peaceful and happy life.
Please, Tathagata, will you teach us?”

(This is the Buddha’s answer):

“Not to be associated with the foolish ones,
To live in the company of wise people,
Honoring those who are worth honoring—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live in a good environment,
To have planted good seeds
And to realize that you are on the right path—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To have a chance to learn and grow,
To be skillful in your profession or craft,
Practicing the precepts and loving speech—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To be able to serve and support your parents,
To cherish your own family,
To have a vocation that brings you joy—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live honestly, generous in giving,
To offer support to relatives and friends,
Living a life of blameless conduct—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To avoid unwholesome actions,
Not caught by alcoholism or drugs,
And to be diligent in doing good things—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To be humble and polite in manner,
To be grateful and content with a simple life,
Not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To persevere and be open to change,
To have regular contact with monks and nuns,
And to fully participate in Dharma discussions—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live diligently and attentively,
To perceive the Noble Truths,
And to realize nirvana—
This is the greatest happiness.

“To live in the world
With your heart undisturbed by the world,
With all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace—
This is the greatest happiness.

“For the one who accomplishes this
Is unvanquished wherever she goes;
Always he is safe and happy—
Happiness lives within oneself.”

Translated by Thich Nhat Hahn

Two Thoughts on the Passion: The Buddha and Bob Dylan

 

Bringing It All Back Home

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

For anyone, Christian or not, the story of Easter is remarkable. Story, that is, not necessarily treated either as a story told or as a history chronicled.

Two of a thousand thoughts.

1.

The Buddhist conception of rebirth is complicated, beyond my simple and simplest understanding. So consider this just a summary and a thought about something of nearly infinite scope.

The realization that we are bound to grow old and die breaks the spell of infatuation cast over us by sensual pleasures, wealth, and power. It dispels the mist of confusion and motivates us to take fresh stock of our purposes in life. We may not be ready to give up family and possessions for a life of homeless wandering and solitary meditation, but this is not an option the Buddha generally expects of his householder disciples. Rather, as we saw above, the first lesson he draws from the fact that our lives end in old age and death is an ethical one interwoven with the twin principles of kamma and rebirth. The law of kamma stipulates that our unwholesome and wholesome actions have consequences extending far beyond this present life: unwholesome actions lead to rebirth in states of misery and bring future pain and suffering; wholesome actions lead to a pleasant rebirth and bring future well-being and happiness. Since we have to grow old and die, we should be constantly aware that any present prosperity we might enjoy is merely temporary. We can enjoy it only as long as we are young and healthy; and when we die, our newly acquired kamma will gain the opportunity to ripen and bring forth its own results. We must then reap the due fruits of our deeds. With an eye to our long-term future welfare, we should scrupulously avoid evil deeds that result in suffering and diligently engage in wholesome deeds that generate happiness here and in future lives.

In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon

My own take is that these rebirths are not a succession of lives, in the sense of multiple spans, but within this one life, this span of decades. We are constantly offered the opportunity to be new, based on who we have been but also on who we will be—who we will ourselves through thoughts and actions to be. If this sounds somewhat like the premise of Christian rebirth—of being born again—it might be.

(Note: To add yet another layer, Zen Master Bankei   talked about the unborn, that is, the unborn Buddha mind. When we realize that there is a reality that is there even before birth, we are marvelously illuminated. Not being born, we are not even subject to rebirth. But that’s another story.)

2.

Thinking about the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a soundtrack came to mind: Bob Dylan’s song It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), from the album Bringing It All Back Home (1965).

I looked to see whether Dylan had ever talked about a connection between the song and the Bible story. At first glance, it looks like not.

Maybe I’m just reaching, the way exegetes sometimes do, but it seems clear to me. If you’re not familiar with the song, please read the lyrics (below) and listen to the track. As a poem, it is up there with the classics of modern beat poetry, such as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. It is that good.

The song begins with a son singing to his mother about a darkness at noon. He obviously is, or considers himself, some kind of prophet, railing against the status quo and the powers that be. He acknowledges that this is dangerous. He finishes by imagining his execution: “And if my thought-dreams could be seen/They’d probably put my head in a guillotine.”

All along, he assures the mother that everything is alright:

It’s alright, Ma, I’m only bleeding…
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing…
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it…
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to…
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him…
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

 

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)
Written by Bob Dylan

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn
Plays wasted words, proves to warn
That he not busy being born is busy dying

Temptation’s page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover that you’d just be one more
Person crying

So don’t fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don’t hate nothing at all
Except hatred

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Make everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It’s easy to see without looking too far
That not much is really sacred

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked

An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged
It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge
And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it

Advertising signs they con
You into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks they really found you

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something they invest in

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he’s in

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn’t talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer’s pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death’s honesty
Won’t fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes must get lonely

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Translators May Be Traitors

If you read important books that are written in a language other than your own, you are at a disadvantage. You are depending on the kindness or brilliance of strangers. On translators.

That is doubly complicated if the original text is ancient, and the original language itself is a mystery, even for those who are expert.

The Bible, both First and Second Testaments, not to mention collatral ancient scriptural books and fragments, are a well-known example. The same problem arises with Asian texts such as the Tao Te Ching, the I Ching, or early Buddhist discourses.

So you see the challenge. Jesus or the Buddha said great things in their native language. Nobody transcribed them when spoken. The thoughts and words were remembered and kept accurately alive, as accurately as possible, in oral transmission and storage. Then they were set down in writing, in a language related to the original speech, maybe, but later in entirely different languages. And as the words migrated, the texts were overlaid and transformed, even as there was a sincere attempt to preserve the original.

Finally, they come to you, in the language you speak, read and understand. Which is far removed from the original.

When the French had the audacity to translate Dante into their own language, the Italians came up with a harsh accusation: Traduttore, traditore. Translator, traitor.

Consider that when you read translations, you are someone who cannot read yourself, or even see. You are in the dark. You depend on those who read to you. And hope that they are good and true readers themselves.

Morning Star

Morning Star 2

Morning Star

There is so much to learn.
Continue to learn that
There is nothing to learn.
But this.

Treasure Again

Dhammapada

How could I know
When I first read this treasure
How I would wander away
This way and that.
Make no mistake that others
Had value
Like other food that feeds well
Medicine that soothes ills.
But all along there it stood
Waiting for me to look again
And see its simplicity.
No time wasted
Here it is.

It is easier than we might think to lose track of things that once inspired us, the way a match is lost once we use it to light a fire.

This verse refers to my turning back to the Dhammapada. It is the brief, most basic, and most widely-read collection of wisdom from the Buddha, whose recollected discourses fill volumes. Depending on which Buddhist trails you follow, just as with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc. trails, you will have read and heard plenty of excellent teaching from plenty of excellent teachers along the way. But there is something extraordinary about revisiting the first thing seen, the first coin from the treasure, which for many on the Buddhist way is The Dhammapada.

If you are curious to explore the Dhammapada, try this translation by Thomas Byrom or this one by Gil Fronsdal, both from Shambhala Publications.