A Japanese Zen master by the name of Nan-in once entertained a professor who came seeking knowledge of enlightenment. As they sat, Nan-in served the professor tea, and as the cup reached its fill, Nan-in continued to pour, until there was a small puddle on the table. The professor expostulated, “It is overfull. No more will go in!” The Zen master replied, “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can we discuss enlightenment unless you first empty your cup?”
I have come to the realization that, in order for me to better understand enlightenment, I too must first empty my cup. I must throw away my preconceptions. As always, they serve no purpose, and act only as a limitation. Life is suffering. This is the first of Buddha‘s Four Noble Truths. Human nature is rife with imperfections, as is the world we live in. We encounter fear, frustration, sadness, depression, and inevitable death. No one’s skin is impervious; we are all subject to the empty feeling of someone looking right through us. Of course there is also good in this world. Namely, comfort, love and friendship, but in its entirety, life is an incomplete mess. It will remain this way until we finally end our self-centered desire.
The origin of suffering is attachment. This is the second of the Four Noble Truths. As long as we crave impermanent objects, we will continue to be blinded by their unneeded promise of fulfillment. Unfortunately, the loss of such objects is inevitable, and upon their departure, suffering will occur. We cling to what we now refer to as “self.” One’s sense of separate self is an illusion; we are all intact within the universe. “Self” is little more than a bag of skin and bones.
The cessation of suffering is attainable. This is the third of Four Noble Truths. Suffering can be ended by attaining a state of dispassionate tranquility. The cause of suffering is attachment, so why not annihilate that cause? Because it is fu—– hard! The process of eliminating desire is a many-leveled one, as there are countless possibilities for attachment. Consequently, few ever truly achieve nirvana. Nirvana is freedom from angst, complexes, and ideas. It is incomprehensible for those who have not yet achieved it.
The Buddhist path to cessation of suffering is eight-fold: correct thought, correct speech, correct actions, correct livelihood, correct understanding, correct effort, correct mindfulness, and correct concentration. One must follow this path. It may last many lifetimes, and it may consume one’s every waking moment, but as one continues down this path, gradually, ignorance, delusion, desire, and eventually suffering will all disappear. This is the fourth of Four Noble Truths.
Do not liken enlightenment to a religious awakening. It is anything but that. It is not an answer, for there is no question. To be enlightened is to see past right and wrong, to surpass the notion of correctness entirely. It goes beyond belief. Religion is temporary by nature, ever changing to suit its recipients. Unlike religion, enlightenment is not characterized as the pursuit of finding meaning, answers, and purpose. It is the pursuit of rising above that. Purpose is a path worn out by humanity’s pointless striving for a definition. The need for either of those two terms, purpose or definition, is obsolete.
Enlightenment is a possibility for everyone. Many believe that only Buddhists strive for it, but this is untrue. An example of this is Walt Whitman in the 19th century, a new poet of a country in need of a new voice. Being enlightened is to recognize that we are of the earth, not from it. It is the grasping of the concept that the highest mountains of Tibet are somehow connected to the small stream outside your window. The entire universe is intact. How could it be otherwise?
I, unfortunately, am still asleep, literally or not. I perceive only what’s in front of me. I judge what I don’t know; yet I remain without curiosity towards that which I judge. I exist only to survive, partake in meaningless activities that serve as nothing more than distractions. I eat, drink and sleep. I guess love too, but it means nothing. I am still searching. It is the rise above that search that is truly significant. Josh Allerd, 17, m, California