“JUST AS A SNAKE SHED ITS SKIN, WE SHOULD SHED OUR PAST OVER AND OVER AGAIN.”
By Joshua Sumitta Hudson
The big holiday season comes at the end of the year. We celebrate the coming of winter, the shortest day of the year, good will towards men, peace on Earth, resolve to be better to ourselves and others. This time,for most in America, is spent with family and loved ones, huddled over dinner tables of potatoes and yams.
As the end of the year came, I had an experience that brought this time of year back to the first realizations of the Buddha. The Buddha Gotoma, who was always sheltered from the world, had made four trips outside his castle and had his eyes opened to the world around him. He saw the sick, the old and the dying that is the condition of all mankind. He also saw the spiritual people of the world who found happiness.
Sickness and Two Arrows
The holiday season saw a lot of sickness for me: primarily my own sickness. I did not walk into the New Year, but saw it come from my bed as I made two trips to the hospital ER in less than a month.
Applying my Buddhist practice, I worked hard to be mindful of the experience: the arising of the conditions of my illness. The quality of my experience was made more tolerable and positive as I took the time to clear the clinging and aversion of the experience.
With each breath in, I remembered that all things are impermanent. This sickness will pass. With each breath out, I observed the nature of my pains and recognized that my body is not me, and that “I” am a construct of the processes of the moment. Throughout it all I let go of the ideations of the pain lasting forever, the “woe is I” mental anguish, and all of the “only if,” “should have,” and “would be” comments that come when we want the world to be other than it is.
Did my practices stop my illnesses and cure me? No. But as the Buddha says, when we feel pain it is the pain of two arrows: the first of the physical pain, and the second of the mental. I believe that I had a much better illness with one arrow only.
The Aging of Candles
This American holiday season, I also turned 40. For many, it seemed an important age marker, and for awhile, I fell into the conditioning of seeing it as important as well. It took a lot of meditation to remember the tricky natures of mara and samsara.
As the New Year approached, as well as my birthday, I had to renew my own revelations of the nature of the world. All things that arise and are born will eventually die: all things are impermanent.
We so often lament the loss of what we no longer have—youth, friends, lovers, etc.— that we forget that life is not about holding onto the past but living in the present with appreciation.
In our temple, we celebrate birthdays by lighting a candle and sharing it. It is not a celebration of how many years we have collected to carry with us, but a reminder that our time is being used up as we speak, and that we must share it and use it wisely.
The Buddha said a thousand candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of that candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. I would add that we do not measure candles by how much has candle used to be there, but how much is left. In this way, we should always remember that our time should never be measured but how much time we have had, but how much time we have left on this world to spread our light to the world.
Dying to Get Out of Here
As 2009 ends and 2010 begins, we give rebirth to our concept of time. In all reality, January 1st is just the day after December31st. In all reality, January 1st doesn’t really exist,but is a reference point for us to measure our relative space in time. We as a collective society have given time measures and created universes within them.
And so the existence of the time we call 2009 dies, as all things do. The TV shows to retrospectives on what happened all year, and we think back on the good experiences we wish we could keep and run from the bad experiences we wish never happened.
But how is this different from any other aspect of our lives? As we practice Buddhism, we are always slipping into states of samsara,where we crave and avoid. We must continue our practice daily to be mindful of these states and see the nature of the arising of craving and avoidance.
One craving that I hope we can all put aside is the craving for Nirvana. So many Buddhists, I talk to speak as if it is a place they are trying to get to like heaven. But Nirvana is not a place but a condition of being. Reaching a state of nirvana is not a state of transcendence but a condition of liberation. The flames of our candle no longer crave the fuel for which it is fed (in Pali “nibbuti”).
Nirvanna is a BIG subject, but as we continue our practiceof a contemplative life, I wish that all of us learn that (according to Bhikkhu Bodhi) all phenomena are rooted in desire, which creates the “there” in consciousness. So we must explore if our desires long for a “there” to get to,or a “here” to find happiness within. Be in a world where the light from our candle has no “there” to cast a shadow on, no “places” it wishes to go, “desires”it craves for.
Let this time, in which we exist now, be where we work to find our happiness. Our lives are temporary: don’t be dying to get out of here craving.