Friday, April 8, 2011

Buddha's birthday

By some reckonings, today marks the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, the man most people are referring to when they want to indicate the "Buddha" who founded Buddhism. There are ceremonies to mark the event (in 563 BC) whenever the anniversary occurs ... which depends on who is using what calendar to pinpoint it.

Buddhism is said to be one of the world's great religions. I guess "great" means that something is big enough to get noticed. But the word "buddha" just means "awake" and you don't have to be a Buddhist in order to be a buddha, in order to be awake. You don't have to be, but it may help ... the observations and suggestions that Buddhism makes (The Four Noble Truths; The Eightfold Path) have been tested and found reliable by many. Nevertheless, what others find reliable does not make it reliable. That's your business ... your birthday. Dontcha just hate it? :)

According to myth/legend, when the baby Siddhartha was born, he took seven steps in each of the cardinal directions and then raised his right hand to heaven and pointed his left hand to the earth and said, "Above the heavens and below the earth, I alone am the world-honored one." Leaving aside the fairy-tale elements of the story, why would those who came later even tell such a tale? Was the teaching of Gautama nothing more than the instruction of a mad egotist? If your neighbor or your eccentric uncle made such a statement, you might avoid him like the plague ... or alternatively seek out a rubber room for lodging. Haven't we seen the results of a Hitler or some other narcissist? Don't we know better than to bend a knee to this sort of insanity?

But then one day, many of us look in the mirror and see a glimmering there. I too am a glowing asshole, an egotist, a narcissist who longs to rule all things with one sort of control or another. I believe and find meaning and impute explanations to kingdoms near and far. Writ little or writ large, I alone am the world-honored one. But if I am the world-honored one, how come I don't feel the joy and peace and ease that you might think comes with ruling the heavens and earth? And those who have the courage not to turn away from such questions -- who decide instead to really investigate the realm of this world-honored one -- may wake up on some April 8th -- or any other day -- and realize with a smile at last ...

Happy Birthday, Buddha!

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