Wednesday, April 8, 2009

happy birthday!

As I heard the tale, when Gautama Siddhartha was born, he took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and then,
raising his right index finger to heaven and pointing his left index finger at the earth, proclaimed, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one."

By some reckonings, today is the Buddha's birthday. The few ceremonies I have been to that honored that birth were always relatively light-hearted -- a time for celebration and smiles. And there would be the chance to pour a ladle's worth of water over a statue depicting the finger-pointing. It had a care-free feel to it.

"Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one." What a nervy statement, whether the tale were myth or truth! Outsiders might rightly see it as pretty arrogant ... sort of an extension of a puffed up expert's approach to life: No one can outflank me! Ballsy, confident, self-assured, proud, challenging, and perhaps magnetic.

But for those more curious ... well, how could anyone make peace with such a statement? How could anyone state such a thing and not feel somehow fraudulent and frightened? Those too frightened or uncertain may resort to worship and belief: It's OK for Buddha to say it because he was Buddha, but I could never say such a thing and be at ease. It would be too dangerous, too potentially self-serving, too contrary to the Buddhism I have learned to love and emulate.

And yet I think everyone needs to find their peace in it: "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one."

Gently but firmly then, recognizing the charlatans who are all too apparent, doesn't everyone have a birthday? And more than a birthday on a particular day, isn't every moment a rebirth, a re-birthday, fresh and smiling? And you don't have to do a single thing about it ... it just happens, moment after moment. There is nothing that needs to be added or praised. It's easy as a pile of salt.

The Hindus use the metaphor of a broken piece of incense ... each piece is it. Break the world-honored one into a hundred thousand pieces and still, nothing is broken and nothing is lost. Each piece is it. Each moment is the world-honored one. You don't need to believe it or praise it any more than you would bother to believe or praise a pile of salt. You just need to know what is obvious. Just go about your business and, so to speak, smell good.

Happy birthday!

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